British Columbia

Face masks will be mandatory on public transit across much of B.C.

Face masks will be mandatory on public transit across much of the province starting Aug. 24, TransLink and BC Transit announced Thursday.

Policy goes into effect Aug. 24 on buses, SkyTrain, SeaBus, say TransLink and BC Transit

TransLink and BC Transit say they're focusing on education and awareness instead of enforcement as the new policy goes into effect. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Face masks will be mandatory on public transit across much of the province starting Aug. 24, TransLink and BC Transit announced Thursday.

The new policy will apply to anyone riding the bus, SkyTrain or SeaBus in Metro Vancouver, and on buses operated by BC Transit outside of the region — but there will be some exemptions. 

In a statement, TransLink said the move is "essential" to ensuring people feel confident riding transit as the province's economy reopens and more people resume commuting.

"It's imperative that our customers ... feel safe so that we can recover our ridership over time," TransLink CEO Kevin Desmond told reporters Thursday.

"We want to ensure that we continue to do our part to minimize any potential for community transmission on public transit."

BC Transit says it will also mandate face masks on its buses in the province starting Aug. 24.

"We recognize the advice from health professionals, including Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, has been to wear face coverings when physical distancing is not possible including on transit vehicles," the company said in a statement.

The new policy will be implemented "as an educational step" without enforcement and the company will work to ensure riders are aware of the requirement in the coming weeks, BC Transit said.

Small children, people with medical conditions exempt

Children under the age of five and anyone who can't wear a face mask or covering due to a medical condition will be exempt from the policy, both authorities said.

TransLink says employees working behind a physical barrier or in areas not accessible to the public will also be exempt, and so will police or first responders in the event of an emergency.

Metro Vancouver Transit Police will be able to enforce rules requiring face masks on transit, but the initial focus of the policy will be on awareness and education, TransLink said. 

Desmond estimates roughly 40 per cent of TransLink customers currently wear masks while riding public transit, which he said is not enough.

Although the transit authority says it is going to be focusing on education and awareness, transit police could eventually issue fines for non-compliance "if absolutely necessary," Desmond said.

"We're starting off with a light touch," he said.

"If at some point in time or if a field circumstance absolutely requires, the transit police would be empowered to issue a fine or ask a customer to leave the system."

Dr. Henry said in a statement that the decision will help make transit safer for passengers.

She suggests riders find a mask that is comfortable and get used to wearing it.

"Those of us who are able should be using masks on transit all the time," she said in a statement.

"I do, and I expect others to as well."

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